The War On Drugs - Lost In The Dream

by Pete Super Rating:9 Release Date:2014-03-17

It's the middle of the summer in 1990 and the Grateful Dead have wandered into the middle of their second set. Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann's tribal poundings have subsided and Jerry Garcia has activated his MIDI effects board. A swirl of looping guitars mutated to sound like a combination of various orchestral instruments pans through the giant PA system surrounding the amphitheater. The puddle of LSD and handful of mushrooms I've taken are causing me to twitch and jerk in an involuntary response to the drones, burbles, and, oh, let's just say psychedelic fucking cacophony. As the maelstrom settles into a serene hum of roiling delay, I don't notice that track seven, 'The Haunting Idle', has given way to track eight, 'Burning', which gives way to a steady mid-tempo beat and high, shiny keyboards and lilting guitars. It's the middle of the second half of The War on Drugs' beautiful follow-up to Slave Ambient, Lost in the Dream.

I know now why this band is called The War on Drugs; listening to their music takes you there without needing to actually imbibe. It's beautifully hallucinatory and a bit nostalgic, not for a spot-on time and place, but more a gentle wander through music and personal history. They've found a niche riding in an area which approximates several genres without actually living in any one of them.

How in the world are the corporate stiffs to market these guys? It's simple: Imagine Wildflowers by Tom Petty, crossed with Republic by New Order (or Hurry Up, We're Dreaming by M83 – same thing right?), crossed with Reckoning by R.E.M., and mixed by Kevin Shields. Um, yeah. Despite their inherent resistance to genre specificity, let's just say they are indie-rock with a psychedelic bent and a back pocket full of folky twang, and what they do works to great effect.

Adam Granduciel has said Lost in the Dream is a bit of a cross between the first two War on Drugs records and that's pretty accurate. Some of the songs feature vocals which just bleed into the mix in a swell of melodic delay, such as the propulsive 'Red Eyes'. When Red Eyes hits 2:07, Granduciel unleashes a barrage of syllables which hits a wall of delay and washes back into itself as a slurry of rhythmic melody. It's not a case of style over substance, as the effect is perfectly in step with the energy and drive of the song, bringing it all together in an invigorating rush.

Sometimes the formula is reversed, as on 'Eyes to the Wind', where the vocals sit on top of the mix, clean and in front of the instruments which ring lightly with washes of subtle synth, while acoustic guitars jangle, a B3 burbles, and a wan pedal-steel weeps softly behind it all. Many of the songs linger on the coda, with the effects softly surging forth. Sometimes a saxophone lightly peeks through to intone a few solitary notes just as the song ends.

There's a bigger dynamic working here than on the previous two records, and it is clearly a well-thought-out sequencing design put forth. Ten songs roll by in an hour's time without anything feeling overly laborious. The middle of the second-half of the record pulls you in and gently floats you back to the surface. As the waves ripple around your ears you realize you haven't opened your eyes in... God, how long has it been? The first few familiar notes of Garcia's 'The Wheel' are picked and the cute hippy girl comes back to twirl around you smiling with that hallucinogenic eye contact. Our bodies are again commanded to move to a rhythm. The moon rises over the ridge and time ceases to even exist, let alone stop. There's a history here, dancing, alone, together with 10,000 like-minded souls. Lost, dreaming, home.

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